Laurent Gaudé

"The House of Scorta"

(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie MAR 22, 2006)

House of Scorta by Laurent Gaude

Laurent Gaude's The House Of Scorta, winner of the prestigious Prix Goncourt Award in 2004 and originally published in French as "Le Soleil des Scorta," is an absorbing generational tale, as well as the story of a small village that changes little over the course of a hundred years. I have traveled throughout Sicily and Southern Italy - even to Corsica - and the tiny town of Montepuccio, the timeless setting for this novel, is so vividly portrayed, that reading about the place and its inhabitants brings back sights, sounds, even the heat and smells of lemons, olive oil, wildflowers, sage and the sea. I mention this first, because the author's extraordinary descriptions, luminous paintings with words, add so much texture and richness to the narrative, and tend to be overshadowed by the drama - the love, lust, crimes, sacrifices, idiosyncrasies and so many secrets of the characters of The House Of Scorta.

Beginning with a most serendipitous error in 1870, the House of Scorta was founded. A donkey and rider, male, enter the village during the scorching heat of summer. Tiny Montepuccio, "a small, white town, with houses huddled together on a high promontory overlooking the calm of the sea," is silent in the burning sun - it's inhabitants resting after their midday meals.

The man, Luciano Mascalzone, a bandit who makes his living on poaching, plundering and even highway robbery, is bent on revenge, muttering to himself, "If a single one of them tries to prevent me from passing, I'll crush him with my fist." As he passes through the town, he notices that nothing has changed since he was last there. "Same lousy streets. Same filthy houses." He dismounts in front of the Biscotti home and knocks at the door. A woman, about 40 years-old answers. He thinks she is more beautiful than when he last saw her, 15 years before. She is his obsession. He is determined to rape her if she resists. She does not resist. She smiles. In his passion, he whispers "Filomena." He forgets all about vengeance in the sweetness of the moment.

Although it didn't change the pleasure of their first and only union, the woman Luciano made love to - and he did make love - was not Filomena, but her sister, Immacolata. She had thought of Mascalzone from the time he unsuccessfully courted her sister, during the fifteen years he spent in jail, long after Filomena died. And Immacolata's most memorable moment of happiness became the brief period when she and Luciano were together and she was, "for once in her life, a man's woman." Luciano paid for fulfilling his fantasy, even with the wrong woman, with his life. The villagers stoned him to death. Of this union between Mascalzone and the forty year-old virgin, a son was born.

Rocco Scorta Mascalzone, the bastard son, is the village outcast. Immacolata' the only potential source of love for the small boy, died when he was born. A compassionate priest, Don Giorgio, took the baby to San Giacondo, a neighboring village, to be raised by a fisherman and his wife. Rocco returns to the town of his birth as a wealthy man. "While his father had been a good-for-nothing scoundrel...Rocco was a genuine brigand." His dreadful exploits are woefully detailed in the novel. Upon his return to Montepuccio, he marries a deaf-mute. She bears him three children: Domenico, Giuseppe, and Carmela. They too are ostracized by all Montepuccians, except for Don Giorgio, as had been their grandfather and father before them. Before his death, Rocco makes a terrible bequest, giving the townspeople a gift they cannot refuse and making his children paupers. He condemns Domenico, Giuseppe, and Carmela to life without rest. He only asks that all Scorta Mascalzones be buried like princes.

The House of Scorta then, is the story of the Scorta Mascalzone family from 1870 to the present - their vows, struggles and secrets. And let me tell you, this family's motto could be, "If something comes easy, it is not worth it." Everything must be done the hard way for the descendants of Luciano Mascalzone. And, in truth, theirs is a life without rest, befitting Rocco's curse. But there hardships make a most fascinating and original story. And perhaps, at the conclusion, you might decide that they were not cursed at all.

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About the Author:

Laurent GaudeLaurent Gaudé was born in Paris, France in 1972.

He is a playwright and novelist. His second novel, The Death of King Tsongor, won the alternative Goncourt prize, which is judged by high school students. The House of Scorta won the 2004 Goncourt prize, which is France's equivalent to the Booker Prize. His books have been published in almost twenty countries.

Gaudé lives in Paris, France with his Italian wife, whose family was the inspiration for The House of Scorta. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014